March 7, 2019
Storytime for all!
by Michael Seidlinger
A couple recent studies highlight just how important story time—or active reading, often with students being read to by an instructor—is to a child’s mental health and cognitive development. First up, the annual Nielsen Book Research survey went into some detail with regards to the reading habits of British children. Alison Flood reports for The Guardian that Nielsen found “only 32% of British children under 13 are read to daily by an adult.” More importantly, the study shows that parents stop reading to their child by the age of eight, with boys less likely to be read to than girls (14% versus 24%).
The second survey, conducted by the National Literacy Trust, tracked 27,000 children and young people around the latest World Book Day and discovered that the number of young readers (ages 8 to 18) reading for pleasure had dropped significantly (52.5% versus 58.8% in 2016). Even more alarming, only 25.7% read daily (down nearly half from 43% as reported in 2015). Young readers are preferring screens to books.
Storytime, or the lack and loss thereof, is a major cause in the continual decline of young readers. Beyond the immediate benefits of reading books (strengthening lexicon, developing imagination, balancing mood), the inclusion of story time in a child’s daily curriculum has long term effects on their mental health. In a 2018 study by the National Literacy Trust, experts found that children who read were less likely to have mental health problems. These findings are corroborated by a 2013 Centre for Longitudinal Studies study, in which Flood writes that experts concluded “reading for pleasure has a four times greater impact on academic success than one parent having a degree.”
Experts are painting a grim picture, one that we can all see, and it’s because we see it so often that we’re failing to look (and I mean actually look). Kristen Grant, director of World Book Day, understands the issue of time and the infinite array of distractions but suggests, “Whether your children are dressed up today or not, sit down with them … and share a story. We all know how important it is to our children’s health to give them their ‘five a day.’ It’s just as important for their wellbeing to read with them for 10 a day.”
What’s more, it’s important to keep reading to your children. Don’t get lazy. Don’t drop off and hand them an iPad or game controller (at least not until you’ve read to them and, as they develop a habit for reading for pleasure, they cultivate their own desire to read). Hell, I’m inclined to have mandatory reading time for all.
Think about it: What if there was a 30 min caucus of sorts, mid work day, where no matter the workplace, we picked up a book and read? Undoubtedly it would increase mental wellbeing and the likelihood that people would continue reading on their own. Bonus points if someone reads to you. Who wouldn’t want that? I want that.
Michael Seidlinger is the Library and Academic Marketing Manager at Melville House.